The equal opportunity yard is amended

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

Those of you who have read this column in the past may recall that Jeri and I have declared our yard an ‘equal opportunity yard’. This means that we let the critters do pretty much as they please. Robins are free to hut for worms, harks are welcome to hunt robins, and so on.

There have been minor exceptions, but even those could be interpreted to mean equal opportunity yard. All of those minor exceptions have involved my better half, Jeri. Jeri takes exception when red squirrels, chipmunks, mice and moles do any damage.

Red squirrel and chipmunk damages have mostly been eliminated when I erected aluminum shoot barriers, carefully cut, bended and installed. The main objective was to keep those critters out of the shed where they already had destroyed a couple of tents.

Neighborhood cats are supposed to keep the mice and moles under control, but when the only neighborhood cats are well fed, domestic cats, their devotion to mousing duties are less than desired. Feline aids wipes out any free ranging neighborhood cats. That probably is a good thing since cats kill untold millions of birds every year. They are the second greatest threat to endangered species next to habitat loss.

I do have one part of the yard that is off limits to critters, my garden. Since starting this garden from scratch- it is a raised bed garden since my lawn is an inch of soil over clay- I have used guard plants to keep most pests from munching on my garden. Most critters stay away from hot peppers and chilis. That includes bugs. And I assume the plentiful small birds pick off their share of bugs.

A few years ago I erected a rabbit fence, burying the bottom a few inches underground. Nothing had bothered my garden since, until this spring. Something got into the garden and ate every snow pea plant. Not only did whatever critter it was eat every bit of the plants, it dug into the ground and ate the roots. Then it ate a row and a half of celery, completely destroying the first row.

That vexed me mightily.

I tried replanting the snow peas, but nothing came up. Bad seeds?

I tried replanting again using different, but old, seeds. Nothing again.

I will try a third time with yet another different batch of seeds.

In the meanwhile, a neighbor informed me that he had seen a woodchuck in his yard. That, I will assume, was the critter that ravaged my garden.

But the woodchuck has not been seen since, so I imagine the neighbor trapped the woodchuck in a Havaheart Trap and moved it far away. I have one of the same traps for the same purpose. I have dealt with woodchucks before. One will wipe out a small garden.

So now, officially, sort of, I am amending the Equal Opportunity Yard policy. From now on, the equal opportunity does not extend to woodchucks.

I count on my small garden for fresh salad fixings through summer, and maybe I will extend that through winter with grow lights. It is hard to beat garden fresh salad. I have been looking for, and maybe have found, a small cucumber plant for indoor growth.

I also count on my garden for chilis and peppers to last me until the next harvest. Jeri and I have developed a taste for hot foods, and an appreciation for the nutrition in peppers and chilis. We now use some sort of chopped peppers and/or chilis in most meals.

Snow peas and another important garden crop. I do not eat enough greens. But after eating snow peas in Chinese restaurants in the sauces they use, I do like snow peas. These can be frozen, and if cooked without thawing they taste fresh picked. This is a great source of winter greens.

Herbs have always been important in my garden, especially basil. Each year I try to grow several types of basil. This can be preserved by dehydrating or by freezing the leaves. This year we also have dill and a couple kinds of sage planted since we eat a lot of chicken.

If you are not already growing chives, I suggest that you do. They are easy to grow, come up every year and will be green during warm winter spells. I chop a couple large plastic bags-full o f chives to provide more semi-fresh winter greens. They work in just about anything, including salads and most sauces.

Gardening can be a big part of the outdoors lifestyle. It can improve your diet, and gardening gets you exercising in the fresh air.